Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 4/19/09.
Around the time PJ Harvey was working on her sophomore album Rid of Me in December of 1992 with her bandmates Rob Ellis and Steve Vaughn along with producer Steve Albini. Harvey was unearthing demos she had made herself featuring songs from Rid of Me along with material that she would later record in other albums. Steve Albini heard the demos which he liked so much that he suggested that she should compile it into an album of its own. After the release of Rid of Me in May of 1993, Harvey went to work on compiling the album of demos she made from 1991 and 1992 for Rid of Me that would be entitled 4-Track Demos.
Written, produced, and performed by PJ Harvey, 4-Track Demos is an album of material that features 8 songs from Rid of Me plus six additional songs that would become B-sides or album tracks from later albums. Filled with songs performed acoustically with electric guitars and keyboards, it's a record that unveils Harvey's genius as a songwriter as well as a performer. The result is a fascinating record that reveals the brilliance of PJ Harvey.
The album opens with Rid Of Me, the title track from the album of the same name. With its fast, driving electric guitar riffs and PJ Harvey's wailing, breathy vocals. With its sexy yet angry lyrics, it's performance maintains the intensity of its final recorded version from the album as it gets angry with its assaultive guitar during the chorus, which includes Harvey singing backup in a falsetto vocal. Another track from Rid of Me is Legs, a song that opens with a soft, piano flourish that is later followed by Harvey's wailing vocals and droning guitar riff as it turns into a washy, dissonant ballad. Filled with grunge riffs and sexually-aggressive lyrics that have a lot of bite, it's a song that maintains its power without the charging rhythms of bassist Steve Vaughn and drummer Rob Ellis.
Reeling is a new song that is upbeat with washy, droning riffs and Harvey's hollow vocals filled with lyrics about pain and anger as she is accompanied by a wailing organ-like keyboard in the background. Snake from Rid of Me is a song that has Harvey's angry, wailing vocals with incendiary lyrics as it captures the intensity of its final recording with growling guitars, both electric and acoustic, as it's a song that is angry which includes Harvey's screeching vocals. Hook from Rid of Me maintains the song's angry, intense performance but with growling blues riffs and Harvey's hollow vocals as she also accompanies herself with a tambourine that she stomps on with its dark, sexy lyrics. Another cut from Rid of Me in the single 50 Ft. Queenie, a song that features a punk-like intensity with its driving, growling guitars as Harvey performs the intense, empowering song with an acoustic and electric accompaniment as its intensity is still intact with Harvey's vocals sung a bit quieter than its original recording.
Driving is another new cut that includes a washy riff in an electric guitar track filled with Harvey's calm though wailing vocals which features herself singing backup. With its lyrics that are dark and with night-like imagery, it's a song that features chord changes with more driving rhythms and ringing melodies that play through as it's a fascinating cut. Ecstasy from Rid of Me is given a simple, blues make over with just ringing, dissonant guitar slide performances as if it's performed on acoustic with Harvey's wailing vocals filled with dark, despairing lyrics that is reminiscent of the blues. Hardly Wait is a new cut that is presented as a ballad with melodic-ringing, washy riffs and Harvey's smooth, somber vocals with acoustic accompaniments. Filled with lyrics that are sexually-descriptive with desperation and anticipation, it's accompanied by percussion taps as it's a gem from Harvey. Rub Til' It Bleeds from Rid of Me is a ballad that is given an acoustic presentation as Harvey maintains its sexually-charged performance with moaning vocals and descriptive yet eerie lyrics. The song is later accompanied by growling electric guitars to re-capture the song's original intensity.
Easy is a mid-tempo song with driving guitar riffs and Harvey's calm, somber vocals filled with lyrics that are very direct towards easy women. With breathy vocals and growling, melodic-swirling riffs, it's a song that is a mix of blues and grunge showcasing Harvey's versatility. M-Bike is a song that mixes both acoustic and electric blues with a swift, upbeat performance as Harvey's wailing, bluesy vocals sings about a motorbike that she hates which includes a harmonica solo. The last song from Rid of Me is Yuri-G, an upbeat song that is led by a driving guitar riff and screeching strings with Harvey's breathy, angry vocals filled with dark, intense lyrics of rage. The last track on the album is Goodnight, a blues-laden song with sliding guitar riffs and Harvey's hollow vocals filled with dark, eerie lyrics of the nighttime in a bluesy style with a foot-stomp and a sliding solo as it's a fitting closer to the entire record.
The album was released in the fall of 1993 but its release came around the time PJ Harvey disbanded her band with Steve Vaughn and Rob Ellis. The record however, drew rave reviews with some claiming that it's better than Rid of Me. While both records would help raise Harvey's profile, two of the songs from 4-Track Demos would end up be re-recorded as B-sides to tracks for her third studio release. The eventual recorded entitled To Bring You My Love would give Harvey her biggest acclaim and success to date whether she liked it or not.
4-Track Demos is a spectacular record from PJ Harvey. Filled with simple, homemade recording techniques and raw performances of songs from Rid of Me and new material. It's a record that's more than just a simple compilation of demos as the songs have a richness and intensity that lives up to Harvey's early work. For fans, this record is definitely essential as it shows Harvey's genius as a songwriter and the power she brought into her early years. In the end, 4-Track Demos is a superb album of demos from PJ Harvey.
PJ Harvey Reviews: Dry - Rid of Me - To Bring You My Love - Dance Hall at Louse Point (w/ John Parish) - Is This Desire? - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea - Uh Huh Her - The Peel Sessions 1991-2004 - White Chalk - A Woman A Man Walked By (w/ John Parish) - Let England Shake
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